How One Sport Is Holding a Language, and a Tradition, Alive

The lads collect at an open subject in a recreation space of the San Fernando Valley each Sunday, placing chalk to the dusty floor to attract the boundaries of a recreation that has been a weekly ritual so long as many can keep in mind. After they’re carried out, these males and others who filter in cluster into distinct groups, tossing a six-pound rubber ball to heat up.

On a current Sunday, considered one of them, Jorge Cruz, 39, lifted a 15-pound glove studded with nails and different ornamentation within the air. He glanced again at his teammates and requested, “You guys prepared?” in Zapotec, an indigenous Oaxacan language, earlier than bouncing the ball on a cement slab referred to as el saque and hitting it towards the opposing staff.

That is the way you begin a recreation of pelota mixteca, a ballgame stated by its gamers in California to have originated lots of of years in the past in Oaxaca, Mexico, although theories abound about whether or not it’s an offshoot of an historic Mesoamerican recreation or a European sport delivered to the New World. Wherever it arrived, it serves not solely as a pastime: Additionally it is a method of retaining its gamers’ tradition alive, and serves as a community for an immigrant group all through the West Coast. It has even spawned an underneath-the-radar worldwide event.

“My dad first introduced me out right here once I was 17, however now I come alone and I convey my youngsters,” Jorge Cruz stated, pausing throughout one of many video games. “He would all the time inform me that this was one of many ways in which we might protect our tradition.”

He isn’t alone. Greater than two dozen different Oaxacan gamers who converse indigenous languages like Zapotec and Mixtec journey to the pasajuegos (video games) each week from Southern and Northern California cities, and every makes the journey to the San Fernando Valley for most of the…

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